fledge capable of flying, from Middle English flegge, from Old English -flycge; akin to Old High German flucki capable of flying,
Old English flEogan to fly -- more at FLY
intransitive verb, of a young bird : to acquire the feathers necessary for flight or independent activity

Sunday, May 3, 2009


...when the cut-off is 1 minute, 50 seconds for swimming 100 meters. 1:50:00

One second and 41 one-hundredths.

That is what separated my boy from being in the Los Angeles County Fire Department's Junior Lifeguard program this summer.

One second and forty-one one-hundredths.

He trained for weeks, swam the one hundred meters and did not make it under the one-minute-fifty-second-NO-EXCEPTIONS time limit.

So...That's that. That was it. 

The kid is panting, totally out of breath. But he does have enough breath to tell me how much he hates swimming. He's hating swimming. He's hating Junior Lifeguards. He doesn't say so, but he's probably hating me, too. Did I have to humiliate him like this? When his best buddy struts away from the pool with a time of 1:36? Can't we just go home, he pleads, right now? He doesn't even want to change clothes. He just wants to go. Now. And never hear about Junior Lifeguards again (which, living near the coast in California, is like trying to ignore the sunshine. When you are 10 years old, just ignoring all the kids in their blue uniforms is about as easy as overlooking the ocean. Think "Bay Watch" for kids. Junior Lifeguards is the thing. The thing almost every water rat within a 30 mile radius wants to be a part of.).

One second and 41 one-hundredths.

Look, babe, your buddy is a head taller than you. You're the second shortest kid in your grade. Height matters a lot in swimming. It's no big deal. You're probably, technically, a better swimmer... You're just anthropometrically disatvantaged. It's probably a form of discrimination. (I'm not making things better, I can tell...But I've done my research...research...research...research...I do that...)

I'm letting my son catch his breath when I happen to overhear the words "second chance".

"Second chance"? Did I hear "second chance"?

I've learned that when life gives you a second chance, you take it. Even if there is a chance, even the likelihood of failing again or failing worse, you take that chance, you just do. 

Easier said than done, of course: I'm just the mom, not the kid who's not going to be strutting about all summer sandy, sunburned and smiling in the coveted blue sweatshirt and who wants to go home, now.

No way, Jack says. No second chance. Can we just please go home? Now? He just does not want tooooo.

All right, Jack, it's okay. No worries: I'm not going to make you do anything you don't want to. Let's just catch your breath for one minute and we'll go.

And so we sit, breathing in the chlorine. We watch the drippy kids and excited parents pass by. We see the girl to our left get a time of 1:30. The girl to our right is burying her head in her dad's shoulder, salty tears mixing with the pool water on her cheeks. Junior Lifeguards is not for every kid. Not for the kid, for example, who swims 100 meters in 1:51:41.

Jack is breathing easier and I gather up the bags and shoes and tell Anna to come along. Then I hear Jack say,

"I'll try again."

Huh? Where did that come from?

Really, I don't care: He's willing to try again. I'm so proud I could burst! I try to keep my excitement down. I don't care if it takes him until the sun sets to swim those four laps. To me--and I hope he realizes this--he's already won. He's going to swallow his pride and give it a second shot. He's never swam faster on the second timing. He knows that. But he's going to try. That's all anybody can ask.

A lifeguard escorts Jack to his lane and Jack jumps in. "Ready son? ... Go!" And Jack swims.

This time, the lane is at the end of the pool and the lifeguard walks along side and barks out a few coaching tips.

"Feet together! Watch the black line, son!"

First lap, Jack is really strong. 

Second lap, not great, but not bad either.

Third lap, darnit, Jack is swerving and makes a bad turn. He looks exhausted.

Fourth lap Jack looks strong again, he really does. But the lifeguard has stopped walking along side and just looks at his stopwatch. This lifeguard is north of fifty years old. He's got skin that is brown and hard with thirty years of smiling everyday creasing his eyes and mouth. Still, he has a look of resignation as he looks at his stopwatch.

Not going to happen, I know now. Junior Lifeguards is just not going to happen. Not this year. And, after this experience, I can't be sure he'll want to try next year. But I'm still so proud of my boy, I could jump up and down.

The lifeguard gets down on one knee at the end of the lane to show Jack his 100 meter time on the stopwatch. To save the kid some of the embarrassment, the lifeguard doesn't say the time out loud. The lifeguard is a good guy. Thank you, Mr. Lifeguard Man, for being such an understanding guy. The lifeguard turns his attention to the clipboard and marks down the time. I barely take note when the lifeguard hands me the paper. I don't care. I just don't care. I'm watching Jack pull himself from the water and I just want to give the kid a hug. Or a high five or a pat on the back (he's older now and I haven't quite got the knack of understanding the amount of public mothering he can really stand). But my kid is a winner. A winner. He gave it his all and that's more than I should even expect of him. He needs to understand that.

As Jack is pulling himself from the water, the lifeguard points me to the cash registers.


Come along, Jack, we're going home now. Jack starts walking himself toward the cash registers.

The cash registers?

The cash registers are there to pay for the camp this summer. To pay for the camp for the kids who made it through.

Wait a minute.

Paper... paper, paper, what does the paper say?

Wait just a darn minute.

Wait just three-fifths of a second, to be more exact!


He did it.

He. Did. It.


One minute forty-nine seconds and 40 one-hundredths. We'll take it!

Just icing. Gravy to me. But I'm so happy for him.

I look and Jack is beaming. In his swim cap and blue goggles, he looks like a slimy, but very happy space alien. The kid is stoked. No need to ask, babe, in addition to the standard uniform, I'll get you the coveted navy blue Los Angeles County Fire Department Junior Lifeguard hoodie.

And the Los Angeles County Fire Department Junior Lifeguard rash guard.

And the beanie.

And the sun hat.

Congratulations, son. I'm so very proud of you.


Andrea said...

what a great story! I tend to get really soppy about mummy's proud stories like these so you had "pippi" in my eyes there ;o))
Congrats to Jack!
xoxo Andrea

Chris said...

Congrats !! Jack you ROCK !!! ... and mommy too :O))

XOXO, Chris

Sara said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sara said...

Way to go Jack!!!

What a super proud Mommy moment! I had tears in my eyes reading this.

Junior lifeguards sounds a bit like Nippers here which is part of Surf Life Saving Australia.

Klasse-Kleckse said...

WOW, well done, Jack!

Great story, Nancy!!!

Greetings Uschi

P.S.: I think I'll swim 100 meters in half an hour????

*Sweet*Caroline* said...

Great story, nancy!
Jack is GREAT!


anjana said...


What a great accomplishment, have fun at camp!


lissilulu said...

Man oh Man!

He sure passed the test...two tests!

Don't give up and much practice pays off!


Missy said...

Hooray Jack! Way to gut it out, Buddy!

Being a former life-guard I can say it was THE best experience of my life. (other than my babes, of course.)

I'm sure he's going to be the most adorable jr lg on the beach in all his gear.

Nikella said...

Congratulations! I was keeping my fingers crossed while reading...:)

stinkypeteandcompany said...

OH my cap and goggles!!!! I am sooooo having a rash of goosebumps right this very minute!!!!
I just had a chance to check in and WOW!!!
Hip HIP for JACK!!!
and Nancy, my friend, quite clearly, you are THE mom force whooooweee.... he tried again. Awwww Nance...
chlorine wet smooches your way.


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